Sample text for The homework machine / by Dan Gutman.

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Police Chief Rebecca Fish, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Seen a lot of strange stuff go down in ten years working here. Probably has something to do with being so close to the canyon. Having a mile-deep hole in your backyard brings out the weirdness in folks.

I remember the time that gambler from L.A. lost a bet in Las Vegas, and his friends drove him up here. Forced him to parachute into the canyon. Guy almost died. You get all kinds in this part of the country. The canyon attracts 'em like flies to dog doo. But this recent situation involving the children was one of the stranger cases I ever ran into.

We called in everybody who had anything to do with what happened and taped their private testimony for the record. Far as I'm concerned, this case is closed and shut. Let's hope these four kids learned their lesson. This'll never happen again, that's for darn sure.

Copyright ©2006 by Dan Gutman

Chapter One


Sam Dawkins, grade 5

The police lady says me and Brenton and Judy and Kelsey have to each come in separately and talk about what happened.

Okay, so here goes. Is this thing on? My name is Sam Dawkins, but everybody calls me Snikwad on account of that's my last name spelled backward. Dawkins. Snikwad. Get it? Most kids call me "Snik." It's kinda cool. Beats having a nickname like Booger Face or Fart Boy or something stupid like that.

I was new to the school. I didn't know anything. And I didn't get kicked out of my old school because I refused to get a haircut. That's a lie. I don't know how that rumor got started. I don't care if you believe me. That's the truth. Anyway, my parents moved here from Oregon. My dad was in the air force and that's why we moved to Arizona. He was assigned to Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.

The bottom line is, we messed up. Stuff happens. We're not perfect. We all feel bad. We won't do it again. What are you gonna do, throw us in jail? That's my statement.

What, you need more than that? Details? Okay, okay. What do you want to know?

Kelsey Donnelly, grade 5

My name is Kelsey Donnelly. I really don't see the reason why we gotta do this. The police lady told me that I have to make a "statement" in private and tell the whole story of what happened from the very beginning in September. Like I'm a creep or something! I barely remember what happened last week. Forget about way back in September.

Look, we're sorry about what happened. We were just having a little fun and it got out of hand. It's not like we robbed a bank or anything. That's my statement. I can't believe I have to spend my summer in this room with a tape recorder when I could be out having fun. Can I go now?

Judy Douglas, grade 5

My name is Judy Douglas. My mom works at home and my dad works for the National Park Service. He cuts down dead trees and does controlled burns to prevent forest fires.

The whole thing started because certain people who shall remain nameless did some thoughtless things that I don't need to discuss here.

This is so unfair. I have almost straight A's and I'm in the G&T program. That's gifted and talented. I would never break the law or do anything dishonest. Things just got out of control. The next thing we knew, we had to go talk to the police.

Do you have any idea of how humiliating this entire ordeal has been for me? Do you know how upset my parents were when they found out? And now this is going to be on my permanent record, probably for the rest of my life. If this keeps me out of law school someday, I will be so angry.

I'll sue. That's what I'll do. Well, if I get into law school I'll sue. But if I get into law school I won't need to sue. Oh, I just wish I could go to sleep and wake up and find out it was all a dream. Like it never happened.

Judy's mom

My first reaction was that it was discrimination. We are one of the few African-American families living in this area. When something bad happens to Judy, I can't help but wonder if it is bigotry at work. But I looked into it, and that wasn't the case. She and the others just did a dumb thing and they got caught. It's as simple as that. And now they're going to have to pay for it.

Brenton Damagatchi, grade 5

It's interesting how things happen sometimes. If I line up ten dominoes and I push over the first one, the others will fall one by one. But if I leave the first one alone, the other dominoes remain standing.

Life is like that. The way your life plays out depends on which dominoes you choose to push over and which ones you leave alone. In this case, we pushed over the wrong domino. Can I get a drink of water or something?

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

I was so excited, walking into my very own classroom for the first time in September. I had been a student teacher in Ohio, and I was hoping to get a job somewhere in the west, preferably near a national park. I've always been a nature lover, and I wanted to share this with young people. When I got an offer to teach fifth grade at the Grand Canyon School, well, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The Grand Canyon! I had never even been here before. Just think! Over the course of four billion years, the Colorado River slowly sliced this gash into the Earth. I spent hours exploring it when I moved here, and took lots of pictures of the layers of rock. The Grand Canyon is like a sculpture, created by nature. I was in awe.

Judy Douglas, grade 5

When I walked into Miss Rasmussen's class on the first day of school, the first thing that struck me was that she was so young! I mean, she looked like she could have been one of the students. I liked that, because I figured she would be really enthusiastic about everything. Some of the older teachers who have been teaching all their lives don't get too excited about anything anymore.

On the other hand, I was afraid Miss Rasmussen might not be experienced enough to handle some of the boys, who can be a problem sometimes.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

So I walk into Miss Rasmussen's class on the first day of school in September and I'm the new kid, so I'm a little nervous and I don't want everybody looking at me, but they're all looking at me anyway because, well, I'm the new kid and everybody wants to check out the new kid.

I scope out the scene and it's obvious who the cool kids are, who the dumb kids are, who the smart kids are, and who the dorks are. I could tell in a minute. The class had the usual number of clueless dweebs, pre-jock idiots, losers, brownnosers, and bullies, just like my old school.

But the one kid who stood out was Brenton. You just knew the first time you set eyes on him that there was something different about this kid.

Judy Douglas, grade 5

Brenton would dress funny, with these stiff long pants no matter how hot it was. He always wore a button-down shirt and sometimes he would even wear a tie to school. Can you imagine? I guess his mom made him dress that way. I hope so, anyway. I can't imagine a boy wearing a tie to school on his own. He was actually pretty good-looking, but he combed his hair in a really weird way. Like he parted it on the wrong side or something.

Once I suggested to him that he would look better if he combed his hair the other way. He just looked at me like I was crazy. Like it hadn't even occurred to him that you could change your personal appearance to look better. Or that it would matter. He probably had so many more important things on his mind that he couldn't be bothered with something as trivial as combing his hair.

Some of the other kids would make fun of him behind his back. Sometimes in front of his back. He didn't have any friends. Nobody seemed to know what to make of him.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

Brenton just came out and said the weirdest stuff. Like one time he comes up to me and asks me if I know what they made glass out of. I say no and he says they make glass out of sand. I say that's interesting, even though I really don't think it's all that interesting. Then he gets that look in his eyes and he says they take sand and make it into glass. He says he figures that if they can turn sand into glass, just about anything is possible. I'm telling you, the guy is different.

Kelsey Donnelly, grade 5

Brenton was a genius when it came to school and stuff, but he was real stupid when it came to other stuff. I remember one time this reality TV show was hot and everybody was talking about it. I mean everybody. And we were all at recess talking about it and Brenton comes out and says something like, "I never heard of that show." We all just looked at him. It was like not knowing the sun was in the sky. And they say I'm dumb!

That's just the way Brenton is. He doesn't know or care about the stuff that normal people care about. We all thought he was a dork. Well, probably Judy didn't, 'cause she's a genius too.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

Most kids at least try to act cool in some way. You know, like they'll get T-shirts with cool logos on them or they'll get a cool bike or listen to cool music. They may not be cool themselves, but they make themselves cool by having cool stuff or hanging around with cool people. But Brenton, he didn't even make the effort.

Brenton Damagatchi, grade 5

What does "cool" mean, anyway? Did you know that Abraham Lincoln once said "That is cool"? It's true. I looked it up. He said it in his famous Cooper Union speech. Google it if you don't believe me.

I feel that a person can change himself or herself no more than a giraffe can decide it doesn't like having a long neck. It would be easy enough to buy the latest clothes and watch the hot new TV shows and surround myself with cool things. But that wouldn't make me cool. Nothing will ever make me cool. Some people are simply destined not to be cool. And I'm cool with that.

If everybody was cool, everybody would be the same. Nobody would be cooler than anyone else. There would be nobody to make fun of. So I suppose I serve a purpose, in a weird way.

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

Our claim to fame at the Grand Canyon School is that we are the closest school to the Grand Canyon. We're about a half a mile from the South Rim. If you've ever been to the canyon, our school is south of El Tovar and near Bright Angel. We go all the way from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and I believe we have the only high school that is in a national park.

By September, most of the tourists have gone back to work and school. It gets pretty quiet around here. But it's nice in a way, because we have the canyon to ourselves. We've got a lot of great teachers, nice parents, and good kids here. But sometimes, I guess, good kids do bad things.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

Somebody told me that the human brain isn't fully formed until we're about twenty years old. That's why kids do dumb things sometimes. And that's why we're not allowed to vote and drink and stuff. So can you really blame us for the dumb thing we did? I don't think so. Our brains aren't fully formed yet.

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

Some teachers like to have the desks arranged in perfect columns and rows. In graduate school, one of my professors told me that the children learn better when they work in small groups. I divided the class into six groups of four kids, and we pushed the desks together in those groups.

I had no big plan to put Brenton, Kelsey, Judy, and Sam together. I did it alphabetically. All their last names started with D. We called them the D Squad.

Every child is unique, of course. It's necessary to treat them as individuals. Just like me, Sam was new to this area, and he had some initial problems adjusting to the curriculum and the other students. Judy seemed very studious from the start, and I could tell that it was very important for her to be a high achiever. Kelsey was the opposite. She didn't appear to like school very much. And Brenton, well, Brenton was...different.

Brenton Damagatchi, grade 5

It makes no difference to me where I sit. I'll get the same information whether I'm sitting on one side of the room or the other. I don't ordinarily strike up friendships with my classmates. Snik, Judy, and Kelsey pretty much ignored me, and I ignored them. At least in September. It was fine.

Brenton's mom

He was always different, from the moment he was born. I don't think he ever cried when he was a baby. Not even once. When he was

hungry, he would just look at me with this look that said, "If I could speak, I would be saying I need a bottle."

He spoke very early. He had no interest in watching television or playing with other children. Instead, he would play chess against himself. He taught himself how to play the piano as soon as he was big enough to climb up on the bench. When he was just six, he wrote a concerto. Really! And that's what he called it, too. "My concerto." I don't know where he got the word "concerto." I still don't know what it means. He was very special.

Brenton Damagatchi, grade 5

I was thinking of starting a club for kids like me, who don't particularly enjoy the company of other people. We could call it The Antisocial Club. We could hold meetings and talk about the best ways to avoid other people. But then I decided that the best way to avoid other people would be to not start the club.

Kelsey Donnelly, grade 5

The good thing about sitting at Brenton's table was that you could copy answers off him. He knew everything, and he didn't care if you peeked at his papers. That's the only reason I got a B in math for the first marking period. I copied off Brenton.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

What did I think of the other kids at my table when I first met them? Let me think. First impressions? Judy: stuck-up. Kelsey: a loser. Brenton: mutant dork from another planet. I was the only cool one.

Judy Douglas, grade 5

Oh, I didn't like Snik at all in the beginning. He had really long hair, which I personally think looks terrible on a boy. And he had this very smart-alecky "I hate the world" attitude. It's typical of boys with low self-esteem, I understand. He struck me as, and I hate to say this, but he struck me as stupid.

Kelsey, well, she just didn't seem to care about anything, and I found it very hard to relate to her because I care so much about everything. She and Snik were not the kind of people I would ever hang around with.

Brenton...What can I say about him? I was in awe of him. I've been in Brenton's class ever since first grade, and he was always smarter than me. I try so hard all the time and he never seemed like he was trying at all. I was in awe of his natural intelligence. I had never met anyone who was smarter than me. I almost felt like nobody should be allowed to be that brilliant. I never made fun of Brenton the way other kids did.

Ronnie Teotwawki, grade 5

My name is Ronnie Teotwawki. I sat on the other side of the room, near the cloakroom. Why do I have to be here? I didn't have anything to do with it.

I never wanted to sit with any of those D Squad losers. Snikwad is a jerk. Everybody knows he got thrown out of his last school. Personally, I loved it when the four of them got in trouble. It took the attention off me.

Kelsey Donnelly, grade 5

I guess it all started because of homework. Homework sucks, but I do it. It would suck even worse to fail and have to repeat a grade because I didn't do my homework.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

I've always been antihomework, and I'll tell you why. We work at school all day long. Then, finally, three o'clock comes and we can go home. And what do we have to do at home? More schoolwork! It's not fair. When I get home from school, my brain needs a rest. I want to hang out and watch some TV or play video games. Homework is like punishment you get just for being a kid.

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

I came across a worksheet titled "The Ten Commandments of Homework." I made a copy for everyone in the class. For their first homework assignment of the year, I asked everyone to write his or her feelings about it.

The Ten Commandments of Homework

1. Homework is an essential part of learning.

2. Not doing your homework because you do not believe in homework is self-defeating behavior.

3. Keep track of your daily assignments.

4. The more you review information, the easier it is to remember and the longer you are able to retain it. Even though you may not have written work to do, you can always review or reread assignments.

5. It is your responsibility to find out what you have missed when you are absent. Take the initiative to ask a classmate or teacher what you need to make up.

6. Have a place to study that works for you, one that is free from distractions. Be honest with yourself about how well you study when the TV or stereo is playing.

7. Make sure you have everything you need before you begin to work.

8. Develop a schedule you can follow.

9. Be rested when you study. It is okay to study in short blocks of time. Marathon study sessions may be self-defeating. Study for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, then take a 5- to 10-minute break. Estimate the amount of time it will take to do an assignment and plan your break time accordingly.

10. Prioritize your homework so that you begin with the most important assignment first. For instance, study for a test and then do the daily assignment.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

Miss R. gave us this dumb assignment to write about those Ten Commandments of Homework. This is what I turned in:

Snikwad's Ten Commandments of Homework

1. We live in a democracy, where we have freedom, right? We're entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So how can I pursue happiness if I have to spend every night doing homework? Homework is cruel, totalitarian punishment created by grown-ups to take away the freedoms of poor, defenseless children.

2. Nobody ever saved a life, won a war, stopped a crime, or cured a disease while they were doing homework. Think of all the good things we could be accomplishing if we didn't have to spend so much time doing homework.

3. Doing homework causes eyestrain, fatigue, insomnia, and other physical ailments.

4. Thomas Edison went to school for four months. He never did any homework, and look how he turned out.

5. There's a name for working without getting paid. It's called slavery, and it was banned during the Civil War. If kids are forced to do homework, they should be paid for it.

6. Homework is proof of teacher incompetence. If a teacher is any good, students would learn the stuff in school and wouldn't have to learn it again at home.

7. Doing homework wastes valuable natural resources. We have to use lots of energy to keep all those lightbulbs burning. We have to cut down trees to make paper and pencils. We'd save a lot of energy by banning homework.

8. I keep hearing that American kids are way too fat, and that's because we don't get enough exercise. For every minute kids are doing homework, we are getting fatter. Kids should be outside running around and getting exercise, not inside doing worksheets.

9. Virtually every known murderer, bank robber, and criminal did homework when they were children. How can we be sure the homework didn't cause the criminal behavior?

10. Homework sucks. There should be a constitutional amendment banning it.

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

I didn't like what Sam wrote, but I gave him a B for using his creativity.

Sam's mom

We've had to move around a lot, and Sam never got to stay in one school very long. My husband was stationed in Oregon and we liked living there. But Sam was going through a difficult phase and he got suspended from school last year. We thought it would be a good idea to move and get a fresh start somewhere else. There's an air force base near Phoenix. My husband requested a transfer, and that's what brought us here. That was before the war broke out, of course.

Back in Oregon, Sam simply refused to get a haircut, and he refused to do his homework. We couldn't do anything to help him. What are you supposed to do, strap your child to a chair and whip him? Kids reach an age when they naturally become defiant.

So we made a deal with Sam. He didn't have to get a haircut if he would do his homework. We figured that homework was more important than hair. When it comes to raising kids, you have to choose your battles. His hair looked horrible, but at least he was doing his homework.

Judy Douglas, grade 5

Okay, I admit it. I like homework. Kids make fun of me and all, but I think it's necessary and a part of our education. Homework reinforces what we learn in school each day. My friends and I used to go over each other's houses and do our homework together. It was fun. It was a social thing. I always thought Snik made a big deal out of nothing. It's just homework.

Miss Rasmussen, fifth-grade teacher

Compared to other teachers, I don't even

really assign that much homework. I give the

students about forty-five minutes a night. That's it. It was a lot different when I was a child. I remember spending hours every night doing homework. I practically lived in the library. I never complained. Back in those days, if you didn't do your homework or you misbehaved, you might get a yardstick rapped against your knuckles. Today, of course, we don't do that. Then again, I'd say the kids aren't as motivated these days, either.

We study a lot about Arizona history and geography of the western United States in fifth grade, so we devote a lot of time to that. We also cover the solar system. Explorers. Things like that. I thought the kids would like it. The homework isn't hard.

Sam Dawkins, grade 5

So one day back in September, Miss Rasmussen passes out our homework assignment just as the bell rings. I'm in a bad mood because it's been a long day and I just don't feel like going home to do more schoolwork. You know what I mean. And I look over at Brenton. He sticks the homework assignment in his backpack like it doesn't bother him at all. You could give him ten hours of homework and he'd be perfectly happy. The kid is like a human computer.

So I start in on him, saying he probably spends all his free time doing homework. And he says something in that voice of his like, "Well, no, actually I don't spend any time at all doing homework."

Say what? I ask him if he's got a brother or sister who does his homework for him. That would be a sweet deal, right? He says no. He says he invented a machine that does his homework for him. I said, "Get outta town!"

That's the first I heard of the homework machine.

Brenton Damagatchi, grade 5

It was a mistake on my part. I allowed my emotions to govern my behavior. But I have never understood why average and under-average students feel a necessity to poke fun at those of us who work hard and do well in school. If anything, it should be the other way around. I suppose I didn't appreciate Snik making fun of me. But it was a fatal blunder on my part to have told him about the homework machine. I accept full responsibility.

Copyright ©2006 by Dan Gutman

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Homework -- Fiction.
Cheating -- Fiction.
Schools -- Fiction.
Interpersonal relations -- Fiction.
Arizona -- Fiction.